At a marathon closed-door session, Pakistan’s parliament Saturday joined the country’s intelligence chief in strongly condemning the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The lawmakers also threatened to prohibit NATO from ferrying military supplies into Afghanistan if Washington continued its campaign of drone strikes against militants.
The head of Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, vehemently defended his agency’s track record for hunting down and capturing Al Qaeda operatives. Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha denounced Washington’s decision to carry out the raid without informing Islamabad or seeking its permission, according to accounts from lawmakers that were leaked to Pakistani media.
Since the May 2 raid that killed the Al Qaeda leader, Pasha has been taking heat from Washington and critics at home who want to know if the country’s intelligence community was harboring Bin Laden, or was grossly incompetent in not noticing his presence in the military city of Abbottabad for five years.
Pasha, who has been the ISI chief since October 2008, offered to quit if parliament signaled a desire to oust him, but lawmakers gave no indication that they wanted him to step down.
The appearance of military and intelligence leaders in parliament to answer lawmakers’ queries was a rare event. But it reflected widespread anger here over the ease with which the helicopter-borne team of U.S. commandos was able to slip into Pakistan, kill Bin Laden and then leave without any intervention by the Pakistani military.
Pasha did most of the speaking for the 11-hour session. Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani was also present but mostly kept silent. Pasha acknowledged that the inability to detect incoming U.S. helicopters as well as the Al Qaeda leader’s use of Abbottabad as a hide-out amounted to an intelligence failure. But he stressed that the ISI was not guilty of “intentional negligence,” Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan told reporters.
Pasha also told the joint session of parliament’s upper and lower chambers that, although Pakistan welcomed the elimination of Bin Laden, the U.S. raid was “a clear breach of the country’s sovereignty,” Awan quoted the ISI chief as saying.
After the session, parliament released a resolution condemning the U.S. raid in Abbottabad and warned that any future attempt to repeat such a mission “could have dire consequences for peace and security in the region and the world.”
The resolution also took aim at the CIA’s drone missile campaign in Pakistan’s tribal areas, an effort that Pakistan historically has condemned publicly but tacitly approved. “Drone attacks must be stopped forthwith,” the resolution warned. Otherwise, the government would “consider taking necessary steps, including withdrawal of transit facility allowed to [NATO and coalition] forces.”
Pakistan plays a vital role in keeping supply lines open for U.S. and Western troops battling Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan. About 40% of NATO’s non-weapons supplies move by truck from the Pakistani port city of Karachi to two crossings along the Afghan border.
Parliament also ordered the establishment of an independent commission to investigate the U.S. raid in Abbottabad, determine who in Pakistan should be held accountable, and recommend measures aimed at preventing any future breach of the country’s sovereignty. Last week, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced that the military would carry out the investigation, raising doubts among many in Pakistan that the military could investigate itself.
Although Pakistan and the U.S. have been allies in the war on terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks, Washington remains wary of the strong ties that exist between elements of Pakistan’s intelligence community and the broad array of militant groups operating in Pakistan. Many in Pakistan, meanwhile, believe that America’s ultimate goal is to gain control of the country’s nuclear arsenal.
The steady pace of drone attacks since the beginning of 2010 and the arrest of Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor who shot to death two Pakistani men who he said were trying to rob him in Lahore this year, have plunged the relationship to one of its lowest points in years. Davis has since been released.